Tag Archives: Federal Regulation (U.S.)

Earthjustice map: Crude-by-rail Across America

Repost from Earthjustice.org
[Editor: I’m reposting this map today – it was recently updated and still highly relevant.  Earthjustice’s map shows Major Crude-by-Rail Accidents since 2012 (Red Symbols) and communities opposing Crude-by-Rail (Green Symbols).  - RS]

More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013, than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills.

Since late 2012, as hydraulic fracturing and tar sands drilling created a glut of oil, the industry has scrambled to transport the fossil fuel from drill sites to the east and west coasts, where it can potentially be shipped overseas to more lucrative markets.

The increase in oil rail traffic, however, has not been matched with increased regulatory scrutiny. Oil trains are not subject to the same strict routing requirements placed on other hazardous materials; trains carrying explosive crude are permitted to pass directly through cities—with tragic results. A train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013, killing 47 people in the small community.

In the absence of more protective regulations, communities across the country are beginning to take matters in their own hands.

Legal Cases

Earthjustice represents groups across the country, fighting for protections from crude-by-rail:

FAQs: About Crude-By-Rail

Q. What are DOT-111s?

DOT-111s are rail cars designed to carry liquids, including crude oil, and have been in service in North America for several decades. They are prone to punctures, oil spills, fires and explosions and lack safety features required for shipping other poisonous and toxic liquids. As crude production in the United States has surged exponentially in recent years, these outdated rail cars have been used to transport the crude oil throughout the country.

The U.S. and Canadian government recognized decades ago that the DOT-111s were unsafe for carrying hazardous materials, finding that the chance of a “breach” (i.e., loss of contents, potentially leading to an explosion) is over 50% in some derailment scenarios.

U.S. and Canadian safety investigators have repeatedly found that DOT-111s are unsafe and recommended that they not be used for explosive or hazardous materials, including crude oil; however, the U.S. government’s proposal to phase out these rail cars fails to take sufficient or immediate action to protect the public.

Q. What is Bakken crude oil?

Bakken crude refers to oil from the Bakken shale formation which is primarily in North Dakota, where production has skyrocketed in recent years due to the availability of newer hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques. The increase in the nation’s output of crude oil in 2013, mostly attributable to Bakken production, was the largest in the nation’s history.

Bakken crude is highly flammable, much more so than some crude oils. Today, Bakken crude moves in “unit trains” of up to 120 rail cars, as long as a mile and a half, often made up of unsafe DOT-111s.

Q. Are there alternative tank cars available?

Transporting Bakken crude by rail is risky under the best of scenarios because of its flammability. But legacy DOT-111s represent the worst possible option. All new tank cars built since October 2011 have additional some safety features that reduce the risk of spilled oil by 75%. Even so, safety investigators, the Department of Transportation, and the railroad industry believe tank cars need to be made even safer. Some companies are already producing the next-generation rail cars that are 85% more crashworthy than the DOT 111s. Petitioners support the safest alternatives available, and expect that the ongoing rulemaking process will phase out all unsafe cars.

In the meantime, an emergency prohibition on shipping Bakken crude in DOT-111s—which virtually everyone acknowledges is unreasonably dangerous—is required immediately. (Read about the formal legal petition filed on July 15, 2014.)

Q. What steps have U.S. and Canadian governments taken?

The U.S. government recognizes that Bakken crude oil should not be shipped in DOT 111 tank cars due to the risks, but has done shockingly little to limit their use.

In May 2014, the DOT issued a safety alert recommending—but not requiring—shippers to use the safest tank cars in their fleets for shipments of Bakken crude and to avoid using DOT 111 cars. Canada, in contrast, responded to the Lac Mégantic disaster with more robust action. It required the immediate phase-out of some DOT-111s, a longer phase-out of the remainder, and the railroads imposed a surcharge on their use to ship crude oil in the meantime.

In the absence of similar standards in the U.S., the inevitable result will be that newer, safer cars will be used to ship crude in Canada—while the U.S. fleet will end up with the most dangerous tank cars.

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Obama vetoes GOP push to kill climate rules

Repost from The Hill

Obama vetoes GOP push to kill climate rules

By Timothy Cama – 12/19/15 08:35 AM EST 

Getty Images

President Obama has vetoed a pair of measures by congressional Republicans that would have overturned the main pillars of his landmark climate change rules for power plants.

The decision was widely expected, and Obama and his staff had repeatedly threatened the action as a way to protect a top priority and major part of his legacy.

The White House announced early Saturday morning, as Obama was flying to Hawaii for Christmas vacation, that he is formally not taking action on the congressional measures, which counts as a “pocket veto” under the law. “Climate change poses a profound threat to our future and future generations,” the president said in a statement about Republicans’ attempt to kill the carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants.

“The Clean Power Plan is a tremendously important step in the fight against global climate change,” Obama wrote, adding that “because the resolution would overturn the Clean Power Plan, which is critical to protecting against climate change and ensuring the health and well-being of our nation, I cannot support it.”

That rule from the Environmental Protection Agency mandates a 32 percent cut in the power sector’s carbon output by 2030.

He had a similar argument in support of his regulation setting carbon limits for newly-built fossil fuel power plants, saying the legislation against it “would delay our transition to cleaner electricity generating technologies by enabling continued build-out of outdated, high-polluting infrastructure.”

Congress passed the resolutions in November and December under the Congressional Review Act, a little-used law that gives lawmakers a streamlined way to quickly challenge regulations from the executive branch.

Obama had made clear his intent to veto the measures early on, so the passage by both GOP-led chambers of Congress was only symbolic.

The votes came before and during the United Nations’ major climate change conference in Paris, as an attempt to undermine Obama’s negotiating position toward an international climate pact.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a vocal climate change doubter, said it’s important to send a message about congressional disapproval, even with Obama’s veto.

“While I fully expect these CRA resolutions to be vetoed, without the backing of the American people and the Congress, there will be no possibility of legislative resurrection once the courts render the final judgments on the president’s carbon mandates,” he said on the Senate floor shortly before the Senate’s action on the resolutions.

Twenty-seven states and various energy and business interests are suing the Obama administration to stop the existing plant rule, saying it violates the Clean Air Act and states’ constitutional rights.

They are seeking an immediate halt to the rule while it is litigated, something the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could decide on later this month.

All Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election want to overturn the rules.

In addition to the veto, Obama is formally sending the resolutions back to the Senate to make clear his intent to disapprove of them.

Obama has now vetoed seven pieces of legislation, including five this year, the first year of his presidency with the GOP controlling both chambers of Congress.

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Federal spending deal falls short on environment

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Spending deal falls short on environment

By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015  |  Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.

But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.

Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.

The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.

In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.

Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.

Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:

• Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.

• Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.

• Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.

• Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.

• Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.

• Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.

There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.

But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.

 

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